What do pencil grips, talking calculators, wheelchairs, and augmentative communication devices have in common? They are all examples of assistive technology (AT). Per the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), assistive technology devices are defined as, “any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities.”
Assistive technology devices can range from low-tech tools such as pencil grips to assist students with written communication,to high-tech tools such as electric wheelchairs to increase personal mobility. Whether low tech or high tech, AT devices help individuals achieve an increased level of independence. As a special education resource teacher by trade (working mainly with students with learning disabilities and ADHD), I am always thrilled to find tools which help students access grade-level content. Outlined below are four of my favorite online AT tools that you can access today to support and enhance learning in your classroom.
- Bookshare®: Offering “the world’s largest collection of accessible titles,” Bookshare® is one of my top resources to encourage and nurture a love of reading. Bookshare® is basically an online digital library offering popular books and textbooks for students of all ages. Students can listen to the books while seeing the highlighted words on the screen (voices and fonts can be adjusted).Bookshare® is free, but for qualified U.S. students only. For a student to become a Bookshare® member, an “expert”, such as a special education teacher, school psychologist, family physician, etc. must confirm that the student has a print disability that “severely inhibits or prevents reading traditional print materials.” Students with visual impairments, physical disabilities, and learning disabilities may qualify for Bookshare®. Check out their website for more information! https://www.bookshare.org/cms/bookshare-me
- Mercury Reader is a free Google Chrome extension that “cleans up” online articles by eliminating clutter, such as advertisements and pop-ups, and transforms the articles into an easy to read format. This tool is especially beneficial for students who are easily distracted online as the article is transformed to what looks like a PDF or Word document. No more tempting advertisements or videos to click! Mercury Reader can be downloaded here: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/mercuryreader/oknpjjbmpnndlpmnhmekjpocelpnlfdi.
- Skimzee is another free Google Chrome extension that I am excited to share, which pairs well with Mercury Reader. I have both extensions downloaded on my computer toolbar. Don’t have time to read an entire web article? Allow Skimzee to summarize it! Skimzee magically identifies the most relevant and important content from an article and produces a condensed version of the article as long or as short in length as you wish. This is a beneficial tool for students with learning disabilities or other students who struggle with reading who become overwhelmed by content volume. You can download Skimzee here: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/skimzee/kjoljgbjigkpiecakkgojhdngmgflghl?hl=en-GB
- Google Select and Speak: I love the capabilities of all these extensions-thank you, Google! Select and Speak (formerly SpeakIt!) is a text-to-speech Google Chrome extension that reads text aloud with just a few clicks of a button. Students can select text, press the ‘play’ button, then hear the text read aloud. What an amazing way for students to access grade-level content when they might otherwise struggle! Check out Select and Speak here: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/select-and-speak-text-to/gfjopfpjmkcfgjpogepmdjmcnihfpokn?hl=en
My list is just the “tip of the iceberg” of the wide range of AT devices available. Although IDEA’s definition of AT focuses on individuals with disabilities, AT can benefit anyone by increasing independence and confidence with learning. Interested in learning more about implementing quality assistive technology to enhance teaching and learning in all content areas, as well as promoting organizational skills, engagement, and positive behavioral skills? Register for course 5034: Equitable Learning with Assistive Technology in the Classroom.
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